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While much of this aesthetic reflects the rural area in Oregon that frontman Eric Earley grew up in, parts of the Arizona desert can also be heard.
"I actually use a lot of desert imagery in my songs as well, 'cause a lot of my family is from Arizona and New Mexico," he says. "That landscape has a lot to do with [the songs] 'The Man Who Would Speak True' [from the latest record] or even 'Black River Killer.'"
In a recent interview with New York magazine, Earley mentioned that he had "very specific thoughts" about the passage of SB 1070. Earley has spent a significant amount of time in Arizona, so his perspective on the state's latest controversial legislation is much different and more informed than others who tend to be much more outspoken.
Initially, Earley was quiet in our interview, giving short answers to questions about his work and his band. But when asked about 1070, his tone changed, and he candidly told a story worthy of a Coen brothers movie. Now, it should be noted that he is known to make up stories during interviews, having given a slew of different answers when asked how he came up with the unique and indecipherable name for his band. Still, this is what he said:
"My [relatives] live . . . right on the border, and they've seen a lot. I have, too, being on that border, [and it] is not nice. Like really bad shit going on. And my [relative] had 45 guns stolen from his property over about two year[s] time, all by illegal immigrants coming over. His closest neighbor . . . had two or three illegal immigrants coming onto her property trying to steal her stuff. She would call my [relative] in the middle of the night and be like, 'I just killed this guy who broke into my house' . . . And my [relative] would go over and help her clean it up."
But Earley doesn't see the issue as one-sided, or even two-sided. He understands what a complex, nuanced subject it is. Most Arizonans can't speak about it authoritatively, though they try to do just that all the time.
"It's a complicated issue, and I think that a lot of the violence and problems down there are misunderstood by people from other states," he says. "I don't know if the law that they passed is necessarily going to fix anything, but I think it is good for people to know that it is an issue down there — that there [are these] very drug-related, coyote-related problems going on. And if it takes over the state, people won't even be able to travel through it. I've got family also in northern Mexico, 'cause my mother's Mexican. And we can't even visit there anymore. It's too dangerous. The truth is that if you haven't had the experiences or haven't had family living there, then you don't know. There's no way you can know. I can tell all kinds of bizarre, bloody stories that I want, but it doesn't make any difference."
Earley is also one to realize that a boycott of the state at a time when it is at its most fragile is also not the solution.
"I feel like if people have a problem with that kind of thing, then now is a better time than any to be playing music that hopefully will make some kind of difference," says Earley. "Just cause there's a problem doesn't mean you should just ignore it."
Perhaps we should take a page from his book, learning both to appreciate the symbolic over the literal, and allowing ourselves to acknowledge that there are no quick and easy explanations of the world around us or the art that comes from it. It's this sort of subtle understanding that makes Eric Earley brilliant, and Blitzen Trapper's music interesting and worthwhile.